America's Pivot to Asia

~Women's economic Rights in China~

Chamaka Kalutota, Jenny Aciu, Seung Hwang, and Brandon Hanel

Achieving our objectives for global development will demand accelerated efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. Otherwise, peace and prosperity will have their own glass ceiling.
~Hillary Clinton~

What is the situation?

In China, the working atmosphere for women is one that is extremely limited in nature. Sometimes called the “factory of the world” for its massive industrial sector, its cities attract numerous immigrants from surrounding rural areas who come to work in the factories. Many of these internal immigrants are young women hoping to start a new life in the cities. Unfortunately, their vision of a new life often comes into conflict with old norms from the past. One of these is the hukou system, which, prior to China’s move to a market economy, connected work benefits like pension, welfare, and education with the place of one’s birth and also limited the number of workers coming in from rural areas. Yet, as China’s economic power grew, the limits of migration faded, but the constraints on work benefits remained. As a result, women in China’s workforce receive little to no state protection at the workplace. Earning wages of close to $300 a month (including overtime) and working 70-hour workweeks, they rarely get maternity leave benefits and do not have childcare facilities where they can send their children. Often, children must be sent to live in the countryside, causing severe emotional and psychological pain for their mothers in the factories.

What’s worse, however, is the fact that Chinese women have no vehicle with which to act on their discontent. China, a land steeped in tradition, gives its workers very little legal room to form unions, and those that do exist are subject to heavy crackdowns by a virtually omniscient government. This sort of work environment allows national and international cooperations a great deal of power, giving them the leeway to subjugate their workers, many of whom are extremely ignorant about their economic and legal rights.

How America can be part of the solution

One major solution to guaranteeing women’s economic rights  is educating them about their rights in the first place. Chinese managers and employers seek to keep their workers ignorant in an effort to maintain ultimate control. However,  it would be very difficult for government organizations to intervene in the region especially given America’s rocky political and economic relationship with the country and because of the implications of America’s pivot to Asia. Therefore, America will have to take a popular approach to rectifying this issue. Generally, the solutions that have offered progress on this issue have been NGO-related, mostly relating to foundations. In 2007, for example, two organizations, the Levi Strauss Foundation and the Asia Foundation, entered their ninth year of a very productive partnership. In Guandong province, where women make up 60% of the migrant labor force, these two organizations have provided free education and counseling services as well as important legal aid to workers in the region. Something like this on a national scale would be instrumental in creating a safe and freer working environment for women.

Why This Topic?

As the world becomes more advanced technologically,  it is important that social and political relations advance too. In these modern times, women should all have equal rights, regardless of where they are in the world. In other words, if the world is to advance into the future, it should be done collectively, with the contribution of both genders. With women making up more than half of the world's population, it simply does not make sense to limit them of their potential. Focusing on China, which is considered somewhat of a poster child for this issue, we believed that solving gender inequalities here would be vital in solving them abroad. Allowing both genders to reach their full potential, in our opinion, is something that will contribute to creating a better world state.

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Works Cited

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#ffffff; FONT-VARIANT: normal; FONT-STYLE: normal; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times New Roman'; COLOR: #000000; FONT-SIZE: 16px; VERTICAL-ALIGN: baseline; FONT-WEIGHT: normal; TEXT-DECORATION: none">Forsythe, Korzeniewicz, and Durrant. Status of Women and Per Capita GDP. 2000. Raw data.
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